Saving the William Penn Inn

UPDATE: Saved! The William Penn Inn will be preserved and converted into condominiums. Read about the future plans   here!

The William Penn Inn has been listed on the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s Places to Save  list. Read about the initiative  here.

Check out the William Penn Inn Fact Sheet   here.

Issue Background

The William Penn Inn, a significant historic resource, may be lost forever. A private developer, Rayer Builders, is proposing to demolish the William Penn Inn (now used as an apartment complex) to build five single-family houses by right.

The property is listed as a Class II Historic Resource on the township’s Historic Resource Inventory. As such, when a demolition permit is submitted to the Township, the project must appear before Lower Merion’s Historical Commission.  As a Class II resource a recommendation for a 90-day delay of demolition is the extent to which the Commission can act. On July 28, 2014 the Historical Commission voted to recommend a 90-day delay of demolition. Lower Merion’s Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposed delay in September.

The Inn was originally built as one of the 60 inns that once lined the Lancaster Turnpike. Built in 1799 by Joseph Price, it is one of few remaining resources from that period. As one of the oldest surviving buildings in the township, there is great value it its preservation.

William Penn Inn in the 1890s

William Penn Inn in the 1890s – courtesy of Lower Merion Historical Society

Joseph Price was an early Lower Merion resident. He was a true renaissance man and is responsible for the early development of the township. You can read more about his legacy on the Lower Merion Historical Society’s website here.

Operated as an Inn for many years, the structure eventually became the estate house for N. Parker Shortridge, for whom Shortridge Park is named. He called the house “Penn Grove” and built a significant addition (attributed to Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton) to the original Inn. A prominent local businessman, Shortridge’s family owned the property until the 1940s.


Evidence of 1890s additions to the building

It was eventually renovated for use as an apartment building. It continues to be successfully used this way today.

WPI today 3

William Penn Inn as it is today

Our Position

The demolition of the former William Penn Inn in Wynnewood will result in a significant loss to the heritage of Wynnewood and Lower Merion. This building has passed through the key chapters in Lower Merion’s history. It is an important 18th century building tied to Joseph Price and his contributions to the development of the township. It is a physical signal of how the Lancaster Turnpike operated and how it contributed to Pennsylvania’s development. It is a landmark 19th century home tied to the influence of N. Parker Shortridge and a reminder of Lower Merion’s history as a country outpost for the new wealth created by the expansion of the railroad. This one building tells all of these stories. It is a witness of over 200 years that serves as a key anchor in our landscape.


William Penn Inn in the 1890s – courtesy of Lower Merion Historical Society

The Conservancy and local advocates believe strongly that viable preservation alternatives are worthy of exploration. The Conservancy is committed to working with the developers to research ways in which the William Penn Inn could be preserved.  

Next Steps

Let your Commissioner know what you think. If you do not know who represents you, find out here.

Other Coverage

Main Line Times article by the Conservancy’s Patty Thompson – “Places We Love: William Penn Inn too significant to lose”

Main Line Times article by Cheryl Alison – “Plan to raze Lower Merion’s historic William Penn Inn prompts protest”

Main Line Times article by Cheryl Alison – “Lower Merion’s William Penn Inn may have been used as ‘safe house’ for runaway slaves: demolition delayed”

Philadelphia Curbed article – “Did Secret Room in William Penn Inn Hide Runaway Slaves”

Philadelphia Inquirer article – “In L. Merion, an inn’s link to hiding slaves”

Main Line Times Article by Cheryl Alison – “Rare 1875 photograph is new face of campaign to save Lower Merion’s William Penn Inn”

Main Line Times Article by Cheryl Alison – “William Penn Inn demolition plan tabled for now”

Philadelphia Magazine – “Developer of William Penn Inn in Wynnewood Strikes Deal with Preservationists”